A quick stop at New York's St. Regis River

St. Regis River Cascade

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Roaring river scenes give up new prints

I just left Upstate New York after covering a Bassmaster Open tournament on the St. Lawrence River. I didn't have much extra time during the short stay, but you know I couldn't go to that beautiful part of the country without photographing something! Fortunately, the St. Regis River was a short drive away from my hotel, and that gave me the opportunity on a cloudy day to create a couple of gorgeous new prints.

The first stop was near Sylvan Falls, which I saw while perusing Google Maps. I arrived to find a walkway over the river to an island was private property, so I'm almost certain I never actually saw the official falls. But I could hear water rushing on my side of the island, so I started looking for a way to the banks.

Sure enough, there was a nice-sized waterfall formed as the river rushed through a cataract between the island and the rocky banks, and the water continued rushing over and around boulders to form a beautiful S curve.

Even better, the St. Regis River flows with water the color of root beer. It was amazing!

Composition makes or breaks a photo, and the key is to have strong elements throughout the image. My preference is to have a nice foreground element, usually in one of the lower corners, to anchor the image and provide the viewer's eye a starting point.

And there was a huge boulder right off the bank that was perfect. The positioning of that boulder also moves the eye from the bottom left corner at a slight diagonal into the frame, right to the rushing water.

That rush of water also provided leading lines to pull the eye into the photo, as it created white lines in the bottom right corner of the frame.

I absolutely love how the eye follows the river up into the frame, around that S curve to the waterfall. The scene was simply perfect, with lots of leading lines that draw the eye through the lush forest.

If you've followed my work, you know I usually opt for very long exposures when shooting waterfalls. That creates a soft, milky look to water rushing over a waterfall and around rocks.

However, for "St. Regis River Cascade" I wanted to capture the feeling of the crashing flow of the river. So I chose a faster shutter speed (1/4 of a second) that would still create blurred lines of the rapids while maintaining a feeling of raging rapids.

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Classic river scene

Next, I drove down the river a bit and crossed at a one-lane bridge I had seen earlier. I hoped there would be an opportunity to create a beautiful photo of the main river as it flowed through the lush forests.

I was thrilled to see a beautiful rapid just upstream from the bridge, with a trail providing easy access.

Soon I was standing on the rocky ledge of the river bank deciding how best to frame up the scene. The rapid began with a really interesting waterfall that formed a crescent. It wasn't very tall, but it was the perfect element for the background of the image (seen below).

The question was how much of the rapid below the falls to include. As I carefully walked downstream on the slick rocks, I found a square boulder on the edge of the river near another small cascade of water.

These two elements would serve as perfect anchor points for the bottom lefthand corner of the image.

The sky would be included in "St. Regis River Rapid," and it was perfect! The thick clouds had broken just enough to allow some blue to peak through. The challenge was exposing correctly for the darker river and the brighter sky. Normally I would use a soft-grad filter, but that would darken the trees significantly — something I didn't want to do because those lush firs were an integral part of the scene.

So I opted to shoot two photos and marry them in Photoshop. My first frame would be exposed for the sky, which would leave the trees and river very dark. I then would expose correctly for the river. The two images would be stacked so the final print would have the best exposure for the entire scene.

As with the earlier waterfall, I wanted to maintain the feel of the rushing water. So I again chose 1/4 of a second as the shutter speed. I did have to use my Benro 3-stop neutral density filter to allow for the slower shutter speed because it was much brighter here. 

The final image, titled "St. Regis River Rapids," is gorgeous! You can almost hear that beautiful root beer water rushing past.

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St. Regis River Rapids

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